Local Actors and Service Delivery in Fragile Situations

This report explores how to engage local actors in international development programming that aims to strengthen service delivery in fragile situations. Apart from a discussion of how policy-makers and practitioners should approach local actors and centrally governed institutions systemically, three case studies are presented. They explore different types of external support, and the effect it has had, exploring community policing in Sierra Leone, primary healthcare by village doctors in Bangladesh, and primary education provided by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), traditional voluntary organizations and madrasas – religious seminaries – in Pakistan.

The report puts forward two interrelated arguments. First, the quantity and quality of service provision in fragile situations cannot simply be equated with a set of centrally governed institutions. Service delivery in fragile situations is performed by a broad range of actors, including, but not limited to, NGOs, grass-roots organizations and community-based organizations, faith based organizations, traditional voluntary organizations, customary organizations (chiefs and tribal leaders), and religious leaders.

Second, no local service provider acts independent of the broader system of governance in which it operates. As a rule, local service providers are part of an extensive system of governance that incorporates a variety of centrally and locally embedded organizations and institutions. The systemic nature of how public services are delivered must be central to any development design and programming endeavor that seeks to enhance service delivery, including the varied nature of the actors that constitutes this system.

It is entirely feasible that local actors determine (or co-determine) how a particular service is provided, while some specific and indirect coordination and oversight functions are organized and/or developed by centrally governed institutions in the long-term. At the same time, the three cases show that the direct and indirect functions they should take on depend on the willingness, capacity and legitimacy to do so, which can only develop incrementally. In the long-term, this leads to a governance system that strengthens locally and centrally governed institutions simultaneously.

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